Jacob Sullum

Super PAC donors like billionaire investor Foster Friess (a Santorum supporter) and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (a Gingrich fan) have enabled two of Mitt Romney's opponents to stick it out despite his big fundraising advantage. Such patrons indirectly serve the same function as the wealthy backers who enabled Eugene McCarthy to mount his history-changing antiwar challenge to LBJ in 1968, before Congress imposed limits on campaign donations.

There is even a super PAC that is officially dedicated to fostering competitiveness: the Houston-based Campaign for Primary Accountability, which supports challengers to entrenched congressional incumbents, Republicans as well as Democrats. So far the group, whose main backers are three rich guys, has taken credit for the retirement of Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and last week's defeat of Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio.

The New York Times reports that the Campaign for Primary Accountability is making politicians "nervous" and "increasing Congress's sense of insecurity." As evidence, it cites Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who complains that voters who once distinguished between Congress and its members are starting to realize the institution they hate is composed of the people they keep re-electing.

Incumbent representatives have a huge built-in advantage, routinely winning re-election at rates of more than 90 percent. Even in 2010, when the Democrats suffered historically large losses, the re-election rate was 85 percent. Yet the Times, sympathetic to the plight of anxious incumbents, evidently could not locate a single independent observer who thinks Congress could benefit from a bit more nervousness and insecurity.

"Members say there is little they can do to stop the onslaught of third-party activity," the Times reports. Can it really be that in America politicians just have to let people criticize them?


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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